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Women’s International Day 10 March 2018

Responding to an invitation from Stoke and North Staffs Women’s Network women from ASHA’s sewing group took part in a Craft Fair at Burslem School of Art.


Those who took part very much enjoyed the occasion and the team were pleased to receive this endorsement of their participation from Mo Sullivan who wrote:


‘I am writing to ask you to pass on thanks to ASHA’s craft group of women and children, and also to Godefroid, Lydia, Eva, Ryn and Rufieda for their wonderful contribution to the craft day held in honour of International Women’s Day at Burslem School of Art last Saturday. Angela supported in her usual invaluable way as did Cath Ralph.


‘The ASHA women and their lovely craft work and friendly manner played a big part in the success of the day, and the children were very well behaved.  Godefroid and Lydia were very efficient and good humoured in planning everything in detail beforehand along with the helpers, and Lydia was a great ambassador for ASHA on the day.

‘Linda Holt, chair of the Stoke and North Staffs Women’s Network who organised the day and funded ASHA’s travel and helpers’ costs would also like to pass on her and the organising group’s appreciation.’



A Women’s Group Baking Day 3 March 2018

Fourteen members of the Women’s Group enjoyed baking bread under the expert tuition of two members of B’arts, Rebecca Frankenburg and Siobhan McAleer. Their products were delicious and demonstrated that the ASHA oven works well!

We hope this is a prelude to more ASHA users taking advantage of the myriad creative activities which take place B’arts.


ASHA took advantage of a special Refugee Week lunch to pay tribute to Jude Hawes, one of the city’s leading campaigners for refugees and asylum seekers.

Jude has spent much of the last 18 years supporting the city’s refugee and asylum-seeking communities in her role as specialist advice and equalities manager at Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke-on-Trent. The value of her work is immense. It contributes greatly to community harmony enabling people to contribute to the wellbeing of their neighbourhood and in doing so replacing suspicion with friendship.

Jude’s partner Alastair and members of her team were invited; Jude’s immediate reaction was to ask why Alastair was there when he was supposed to be working from home.  The ready answer was that Alastair was a last minute invitee because ASHA is beholden to him for managing ASHA’s Mail Chimp!

Following a delicious lunch cooked by asylum seekers from Syria, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Africa, Angela surprised Jude by asking her to come forward. Following a short appreciation of her work for asylum seekers, John Wood who retired as Assistant Chief Constable in 2007 and is currently the independent chair of the Safeguarding Adults Board, presented Jude with a bowl inscribed ‘Am I Not a Man and Your Brother’ reprising the plaque which Josiah Wedgwood manufactured to support the abolition of the Slave Trade.As a footnote, Jude, John and Angela had worked together in the late 80s and 90s on PARINS (Partnership Approach to Racist Incidents in North Staffordshire – now Challenge North Staffs).  This left Godefroid to give Jude a rose bush and to thank her on behalf of all the asylum seekers and refugees who had been assisted and supported by the services she developed.

The occasion was shared with 30 ASHA supporters and 31 asylum seekers.



SHARE THE JOURNEY    Walk with us around the world

This is Pope Francis invitation to Roman Catholics to share the journey of migrants and refugees who have fled their homeland to seek for a safe refuge for themselves and their family. The event was ecumenical in outreach and ASHA was pleased to join Walk which started from the Church of the Sacred Heart in Hanley to the City Central Mosque, St Mark’s Sanctus and the ASHA Centre.


The ‘journey’ was organised by Phil Mayland and led by Bishop David McGough   joined by Gareth Snell and on the return to the Sacred Heart, Councillor Amjid Wazir. There were 34 walkers and Phil estimated that collectively they walked 40.8 miles. At various pauses along the way Phil read short stories of a refugee’s journey.


Several years ago the Bishop was instrumental in obtaining a grant of £500 for ASHA and it was good to have an opportunity to thank him personally but, alas, there are no funds which would allow Bishop David to offer another donation.


At ASHA the walkers were welcomed by Mums and children enjoying the Saturday clubs who downed tools and provided refreshments. There were further refreshments of Medjoul dates and orange juice at the Mosque on the return journey.  It was especially appreciated that the mosque had opened up on the first day of Eid to greet the walkers.



ASHA support

ASHA supporter, Maureen Wisken, vigorously promotes ASHA amongst the people of Staffordshire Moorlands. One way she does is by offering regular articles on ASHA’s activities in the SPARK Newspaper.  This is what she wrote in October last year.

Harvest Giving

ASHA staff, volunteers and service users were overwhelmed with the several car loads of harvest food gifts from Churches across the Staffs Moorlands Methodist Circuit and asked me to say a huge thank you. To say the store room was virtually bare isn’t an understatement so the huge top up was very welcome. But food is given out almost as fast as it comes in so please keep donations flowing. Trinity Church in Leek and Cheadle Methodist Church in Cheadle are happy to receive your donations and pass them on.

Most needed items are sunflower oil, basmati rice, tuna, pasta, long life milk, lentils, chick peas, coffee, and tea.

How badly needed are the services ASHA offers?

The bald facts below paint a graphic picture of the level of vital activity provided by this relatively small charity.

965  -the total number of asylum seekers currently registered in Stoke-on-Trent

(Not including an unknown number who are destitute because their claim has been refused)

346 -the  total number of service users accessing ASHA in the last 6 monthsmany of whom are destitute and do not receive any public support

Of these 207 are men ,138 are women plus 87  children

47 the number of different nationalities of people using ASHA services

1741 –the number receiving items of donated food

833- the number who have received items of donated clothing

762 –the number who have attended English classes

401- the number who have attended the Saturday Women’s Group (excluding children)

355-the number who have received advice and support from the Red Cross

443- the number who have accessed specialist advice from the solicitor who attends biweekly.

58- the number who were assisted to travel to Solihull for immigration advice



The British Red Cross-how do they help asylum seekers in Stoke?

The Red Cross have a contract with ASHA to provide advice and support to asylum seekers and especially those who are destitute, homeless and in receipt of no support whatever.

Each week Red Cross Case Workers from Birmingham come to ASHA to provide a ‘drop-in’ on Thursdays for initial /less complex cases and on other days in the week by appointment only for cases that need more in depth advice /support.

Where a different level of expertise is required the Red Cross workers refer service users to other agencies including a solicitor who travels to ASHA every other week to help with immigration issues.

Access to these types of support in a local, familiar, safe setting like ASHA provides a vital lifeline to people who are often alone, are way out of their comfort zone, in a strange culture and with little or no influence or control over their lives.

ASHA Developments

Football To the great delightof an increasing number of young menASHA recently set up a Saturday Football Club with 46 attending in the first 3 sessions. With little or no money for anything but the barest essentials and much time on their hands it is a real challenge for asylum seekers to find enjoyable things to do. Organising football not only taps into the shared love of the sport but also encourages healthy, outdoor exercise and helps develop social contact and friendships between those who may be widely dispersed across the city.

There are plans to join a local league .To do so ASHA staff are keen to attract a volunteer keen and able to help coach and support the emerging team. If you can help contact Godefroid Seminega on

Community link worker

So very many of the asylum seekers in Stoke have brought with them very significant qualifications, skills and experience, which they are not able to put to good use because they are not allowed to take paid employment while their application is being considered-this can take months or, in some cases, years.  They run the risk of being deskilled and disheartened if not demotivated.

A number of those attending ASHA already volunteer in local organisations. Those who do find this helps gives structure to their daily which are lives dominated by interminable waiting to hear the outcome of their application. In addition volunteering provides opportunities for them to improve their English as well as offering skills in short supply. Above all volunteering enables them to give something back to the local community, who thereby gain first- hand experience of real live asylum seekers.

To address this situation ASHA has applied for and been successful in gaining a 3 year grant to appoint a part time Community Worker to liaise with organisations and individuals in the wider community to expand the voluntary role of asylum seekers in various settings, for example,  industry, hospitals, care homes, community centres, sports centres ,schools etc.

Once the post is filled the work will not only benefit asylum seekers themselves but also the wider community and will go a long way in this city to overcoming negative attitudes prevalent in many parts of the UK to  migrants in general

To improve the charity peer support services, improve the quality of this service and reduce the waiting time for support.


The next big event is the Children’s Christmas Party. It is expected that over 100 children will attend and each will receive a present from Father Christmas courtesy of Sporting Communities, who are expert at laying on games and activities for large groups of children of varying ages.  This won’t be the end of Christmas for these children.  Traditionally the Salvation Army provides a present for every child and these will be given out at the final Women and Children’s groups before Christmas.

Many individuals, faith groups and others contribute to ASHA and collectively, we can make a difference.



Lichfield Food Bank is a major resource for ASHA.  Whenever the Food Bank has surplus their chair, David Clarke, tells ASHA and Angela drives to Lichfield and returns with her little Fiat packed to the gunnels. More recently, David hired a van and saved ASHA from cutting to the minimum what it could offer asylum seekers.


David’s December report on the Food Bank’s run-up to Christmas contains a special mention of ASHA.  He writes:


ASHA is a charity in Stoke on Trent that supports asylum seekers and those whose application for political asylum is refused but who are not deported. They have very little to live on (and literally nothing for the latter group). We have supported them with food whenever we have sufficient surplus ourselves. Returning to my theme of what we do being worthwhile, here is part of the latest thank-you letter they sent:


“ASHA is most grateful for the splendid amount of food Lichfield has given us recently. It has made a big difference. THANK YOU.

For the first time we have been able to give every asylum seeker oil and rice and five items of their choice. This is much better than us packing a parcel for what we think they want and can use.

The Christmas Tree (donated by one of our volunteers)is splendid. Two students immediately set it up and when I turned round it had glittery lights. Nobody was sure where they had come from!

The children’s Christmas Party was amazing. Families started arriving at 12.15 and they kept coming! The party proper didn’t begin until 2 o’clock. We had hired a large hall but with 137 children and around 70 parents we were bulging at the seams. We will need to find somewhere bigger next year. Every child had a donated lunch and a present from Santa Claus.

As of 30 November the Lichfield Food Bank had distributed over 252,000 meal equivalents and donations had reached record levels. One outcome is that ASHA will soon be the recipient of another load of surplus stock to replenish our food store for the coming year when donations inevitably slacken.





Keele Medical School January 2018

ASHA was very pleased to welcome a group of final year medical students tasked to visit the centre weekly to familiarise themselves with the ‘world’ of asylum seekers as part of learning about local community services.


We are always curious to know how others see us and to learn from the experience of visitors.  This is how one medical student describes arriving at ASHA.


‘Hidden away on a business park in the heart of Stoke-on-Trent is ASHA. It’s difficult to describe in words the atmosphere created by staff, volunteers and service users in this small centre. When you approach the building, it looks unremarkable, in keeping with the surrounding units on the business park. As you walk in the front door and immediately up a cold staircase into the main room, a sea of warm faces greets you. The loud noise of chatter, children playing, laughter, the kettle boiling, a strong smell of fresh toast …. It feels like home.  ASHA is a place where asylum seekers of all origins, men, women and children are welcome.’


ASHA’s clients felt very much at ease with the students as they discussed the issues they have approaching the medical services in a new country.  The outcome of the student’s visits is a beautiful printed leaflet, A Guide to Using the NHS, which in simple language and symbols will help an asylum seeker know where to get help and how to tell a doctor or pharmacist about their symptoms..


ASHA is pleased welcome a second group of medical students and looks forward to their insights into how the centre works and their insight into what matters most for our asylum seekers.


Diane’s   English Class January – March 2018

In January I started with a small group of 3 students. The numbers have fluctuated from week to week but recently I have been teaching 8-10 students and I have been especially pleased to welcome a number of women and several babies!  Of the 10 students who came on the last week (21stMarch) there were 5 men,  5 women and 3 babies.

The students vary in their command of English but the more able ones are able to support the others and it is wonderful to see them all gain in confidence over time.  I am sure that some of them will be able to progress to the classes run by the Keele students by next September.

Each week I give the students opportunities to speak and listen (often to an audio tape) as well as engage in reading and writing activities.  They especially enjoy role play;   for example, practicing buying a rail ticket or asking for fruit and vegetables at a market stall. They are especially happy to ‘buy’ fresh ingredients to take home. As the last week was just before Easter they all had some mini Easter Eggs as a treat!  We always try to have a laugh and end with a game – they never seem to tire of playing Bingo!

On one occasion I teamed up with Margaret and we taught our two groups together which was very successful.

In recent weeks Sue, another volunteer, has joined me. This has been very beneficial as many of the students need individual support, especially with reading and writing.

It has been a joy and a privilege to work with these enthusiastic, charming and optimistic young people and I look forward to joining them again after the Easter break.

Diane Selby